There have been many contentious storylines surrounding the WTA tour in 2017 – the one that continues to frustrate me the most is the issue around streaming of WTA matches. As the tour takes a bit of a breather before Stuttgart and there is still no concrete news of when the issue will be resolved, it felt like the right time to write about the problems that I am facing trying to stream WTA tennis in the UK and no doubt, other loyal fans of women’s tennis are encountering too.
To set the scene, in September 2016 it was announced that TennisTV would no longer be supporting coverage of the WTA tour and that the WTA would be launching their own separate platform, “WTA Networks”. It was confirmed during the WTA Finals in Singapore that “WTA Networks” would be launched on the 1st of January, 2017 along with a new website. Four months into the new season, there is still no news about when this will be released.
It quickly became apparent after last year’s announcement in Singapore that the streaming of WTA matches would not be resolved for some time. In an interview with Ben Rothenberg on the No Challenges Remaining Podcast, the WTA CEO, Steve Simon, announced that a new platform would likely not be ready until the second quarter of 2017 (from 9:10 in the podcast linked below).
The WTA posted an article in December 2016 about the new service, providing no new details to those that had been shared previously in Singapore with nothing about release date or cost. While it’s clear that there is no timescale yet for the finished product, the little tidbits of information from Steve Simon, reported from various sources, have contradicted each other and provided fans with yet more questions. The latest update from British journalist, Stuart Fraser, was not at all promising with a new target of “before the end of the year”.
For the past three years (2014-2016), I have used TennisTV to watch WTA tennis. The big advantage of TennisTV was being able to watch matches on my tablet and use their catch-up service (on computers) where matches were stored on the system for a week and finals remained indefinitely. I have a full-time job, Monday to Friday; therefore, with the International nature of the tour, i’ll often be working when tennis is live, or asleep when tennis is played in some parts of the world. Therefore, the catch-up service on TennisTV was perfect for me because I could watch replays of matches in my own time.
Since the end of WTA coverage on TennisTV (😢), there were two (legal) options for me in the UK: purchase a subscription to BT Sport or rely on betting streams.
It was announced in 2016 that BT Sport in the UK would show up to 52 WTA tournaments from 2017 with an increase of 30 events from the prior year. From my research, a 12-month contract for BT Sport on Sky would cost approximately £240 per year. This is more than double what I paid for TennisTV when I started a subscription. The big issue for me (as a tennis nut!) is that early on in tournaments, i’ll often be engrossed in one of the matches on the outside courts. BT Sport have one channel for WTA tennis which is understandably, mostly catered for the Centre Court or matches involving British players. The BT app for tablets also requires you to have BT Broadband, which I do not have, and therefore, the cost didn’t stack up for me.
For the first four months of 2017, I have been relying on betting streams to watch WTA tennis. I realise that this is not even an option for people in the US and other countries. To watch streams on most betting sites in the UK, all you need is to have a funded account. With all the abuse that players have received from people who bet on tennis, I find it disconcerting that this is the most reliable (legal) way to stream WTA matches across all courts. Note that I do not bet on tennis.
I frequently use bet365 and the access to streams has been solid all year with almost all WTA matches covered so far from first round matches to finals (doubles remains another talking point). While i’ve been able to keep up with matches, it has been far from an enjoyable experience. I’ve able to get by during the US tournaments because action starts pretty much at the time when I finish work. It will become even more of a challenge during the European clay court season when most of the tennis happens while i’m at work.
I’ve mostly been using bet365 streams on my phone, which you can set to full screen. Centre Court streams are decent but trying to follow the ball on an outside court where cameras are often placed quite low requires a lot of squinting. If i’m watching on my computer, the score updates in advance of the play and I end up having to cover half of my screen so I don’t know what has happened before I see it. And perhaps most frustrating of all is that the betting streams cut out before match point so I miss the celebration, post-match interviews and HANDSHAKES!
A handful of YouTube accounts have sprouted over this year providing full match highlights (whoever you are, I love you). This was great, in particular during February and March for Indian Wells and Miami; however, it’s a risky game and sadly, these accounts don’t last long as they get blocked for copyright infringement. It’s a shame because people wouldn’t need to do this in the first place if there was a service available for WTA fans.
There are some superb highlight packages out there too but these also get pulled down for copyright issues. It’s particularly grating as the WTA official highlights are woefully short and lacking in content – a selection of recent highlights from the tournament in Biel were practically obsolete with the one linked below lasting under two minutes with a valuable ten seconds (!) taken up for the entrance of the players to the court.
The recent changes have made me question the lengths that i’m going to just to be able to stream women’s tennis. My big concern is whether casual tennis fans would be motivated to follow suit? Even for the most recent tournament in Biel, a tournament i’d normally watch and cover on the blog, I couldn’t face another week of squinting at streams and therefore decided to take a week off. My enjoyment of watching tennis has definitely lessened this year and i’m eating more and more as I spend more time in the kitchen pursuing my other hobby of baking 🤣.
I’ve noticed comments this year on social media where tennis fans are giving up on the WTA for 2017 with the inability to watch matches and it makes me very sad. While there are options out there, the difficulty of finding legal and affordable streams is an obstacle that I guess many are not willing to overcome. Ben Rothenberg wrote about the issues for The New York Times in January, one of very few articles i’ve found on the issue, which even included a quote from Barbora Strycova discussing the issue of her family back home not being able to watch her matches (see link below).
I’ve noticed fans asking questions about when the streaming will be fixed in many of the WTA’s social media posts, all of which seem to be ignored. The lack of communication by the WTA has been very disappointing with no official updates since their original post in December. It’s apparent to me from the comments made by Steve Simon that he doesn’t understand the full extent of the issue and the impact that his decision is having on WTA fans. It’s almost as if 2017 has been cast as a write-off in terms of streaming, which I think is disrespectful to the tournaments, the players and the fans. I was convinced that the WTA would have something in place for Stuttgart with the return of Maria Sharapova – love or loathe her, this will be one of the most anticipated tennis moments of the year.
The obvious question to me is why the WTA couldn’t stay with TennisTV for another year to avoid this gap in streaming? Perhaps the streaming has been more complicated than originally planned. Still, it baffles me that there was no kind of contingency plan with fans given very little direction in finding streams. I did notice during Dubai that a live video stream went up on the WTA YouTube page. I got all excited for a moment but my faint hopes were soon dashed when I realised it was blank and soon taken down. The frustration has been further compounded for me by the live streaming of practice sessions on the WTA Facebook page. It almost feels like a slap in the face that the WTA go to the trouble of filming practices, yet cannot sort anything out, even a temporary fix of some kind, to watch actual matches.
While we wait patiently for the finished product, I have my doubts about what will actually be included in this streaming platform because so little information has been provided – How much will it cost? Will there be a catch-up service? Will there be restrictions on viewing tournaments from certain countries? What devices can I stream from? I don’t think it’s going to be a case of once it’s here, the problem is all fixed and it will be fine and dandy. I am genuinely concerned about what this final product will look like and there will no doubt be many teething problems, such as those experienced with the new-look TennisTV covering ATP this year.
I’m sorry for the negativity – i’ve always tried to be positive on this blog and tennis is my passion, one of the few things I remain mostly positive about! I wanted to make clear the issues that I am experiencing this year in watching WTA tennis and why the blog has suffered at times in the coverage. I’ve been writing this blog for almost seven years and it is one of my proudest achievements to still be going. It’s become a second job but one that I love doing.
This has been the toughest blogging year i’ve experienced on all levels but I want to keep going. I am still motivated to write about women’s tennis, something that I am passionate about supporting and promoting on this blog. So as we approach my favourite stretch of the season, the clay court season is going to be a challenge to cover. On a positive note, I am looking forward to the Slams, particularly the first week of Wimbledon where I will be off work and free as a bird, able to watch whatever match i’d like to see without needing a magnifying glass!